Kickoff draws thousands

August 24, 2009

By GINNY WRAY - Bulletin Staff Writer

The Harvest Foundation threw a party Sunday, treating more than 3,000 visitors to a celebration of the grand opening of the Smith River Sports Complex.

Like most parties, this one had fun and games, food and drink, and enough music to keep people tapping their toes and clapping their hands for two hours.

Unlike most parties, this one celebrated an $8.7 million complex that is designed to be a major boost to the area’s economic development, its quality of life and residents’ physical health.

“We have so much in this area to be proud of — the Virginia Museum of Natural History, Philpott, Dan River Basin Association, the (Martinsville) Speedway” and others, Harvest board President Paul B. Toms said. The sports complex adds to that list, he said.

“We believe this facility will bring many, many visitors to our area who will shop, eat and stay here in between athletic events. This will also be one of the assets we showcase to companies considering moving to Martinsville/Henry County,” Toms said.

He thanked those involved, especially Southern Virginia Recreation Facilities Authority board Chairman Bob Davis, who helped spearhead and guide the project from start to finish, and Allyson Rothrock, executive director of Harvest, who worked on the complex and Sunday’s celebration almost exclusively in recent months. Harvest paid to build the facility and on Sunday, Toms turned it over to the authority to operate.

Toms and Rothrock presented Davis with a plaque in honor of his work. Davis, in turn, said the authority is committed to maintaining the complex and making it a prominent destination for people in this area and region.

But the celebration was less about speeches and more about showing the complex’s potential.

Soccer players of all ages played on the fields, while others — especially some too young for a team — tried their feet at dribbling and kicking soccer balls. Carlisle School’s girls field hockey team took to one field, and on another people threw a Frisbee back and forth.

In tents set up around the complex, the Piedmont Arts Association staff painted the faces of children and adults; the staff of the Virginia Museum of Natural History talked about its 25th anniversary celebration coming up Saturday (with a dinosaur balancing a soccer ball on its nose next to the tent); the Dan River Basin Association staff talked about the trails they are working to develop and other activities; and artists with Studio 107 showed off jewelry, woodworking, pottery and watercolor pieces. Patrick Henry Community College’s booth featured the Southern Virginia Artisan Center’s works, and Smith River Adventure Outfitters showed gear for the outdoors.

Infinity Acres Petting Ranch’s booth featured llamas, a dog, a tortoise and a hare and — especially to the delight of the children — one bright pink and one purple chicken. But no, the chickens do not lay bright pink or purple eggs, said Laura Steere of Infinity Acres. Their eggs are lightly tinted brown, although sometimes they are pastel pink or blue, she said, refusing to divulge how the chickens became bright pink and purple.

Food and drinks were free all afternoon. At the grill preparing 1,500 hot dogs — certainly the hottest job on an already hot day — were Bassett Furniture Industries CEO Rob Spilman, Stanley Furniture Co. Vice President Kelly Cain and Mark Heath, president and CEO of the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp.

“When you’re in economic development, you need a Plan B and maybe a Plan C,” Heath quipped about his job prospects as a cook.

The final two hours of the celebration were devoted to music, mostly traditional mountain and bluegrass.

Sixteen-year-old Montana Young played the fiddle and sang pieces as diverse as bluegrass and Janis Joplin’s rendition of “Summertime.” A trio of Jeff Little, Wayne Henderson and Helen White performed “Alabama Jubilee” but also a waltz, “Rose of My Heart,” written by White, and Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Whole Lot of Shakin’ Going On” with an Appalachian twist.

Amber Collins and the band No Speed Limit performed bluegrass, and all the performers returned to the stage for a finale with the Magna Vista High School choir. They performed “Wayfaring Stranger,” “May The Circle Be Unbroken” and “Lean on Me” to close the show.

Rothrock estimated the crowd at more than 3,000 people. Other than a few problems due to the heat, media contact Tim Hall said the event went off without a hitch.

Rothrock said she has spent 90 percent of her time on the sports complex recently, and 60 percent of her time in the past year or so.

“Is it really, really finished?” she asked rhetorically. “It’s almost sad because it’s been my life.” Both Rothrock and Toms noted the large number of people who have been using the complex since it opened July 1. For instance, Rothrock said a headcount on one recent night found about 400 people were walking there between 5 and 7 p.m.

In addition to the fields, playground, concession building, office and meeting space and picnic pavilions, the complex has new trails that eventually may connect with others in the area, and its new boat launch has been completed on the Smith River.

Rothrock added that almost every day someone mentions a new idea for the complex, and additions will be considered when possible.

She credited the 100 or more volunteers who helped stage Sunday’s event with its success. They included area booster club members, MARC Workshop clients, Chamber of Commerce staff and many others who pitched in without hesitation when asked to help, Rothrock said.

“No one can tell me this community is not resilient, engaged and willing to do whatever it takes to be a success,” she added.


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